The French design newcomer Benjamin Graindorge, photo © Stylepark
Questions to Benjamin Graindorge
Uta Abendroth: Monsieur Graindorge, your designs are never classic specimens of industrial design. An initial sketch of your “Soft Wild” sofa depicts its upholstery enveloping the giant proportions of a polar bear like a blanket keeping it warm. The luminaire “The Cave”, which looks like there is something trying to escape from inside it, is reminiscent of Michelangelo’s “prigioni”, while the seat of the “Fallen Tree” bench, which is poised upon a glass leg on one side, morphs into a knotted tree crown at the other. Do you consider yourself more an artist than a designer?
Benjamin Graindorge: No, I’m not an artist. I consider myself a designer through and through; after all, I always work with the tools of the trade. My designs are wholeheartedly geared toward this, both in their production, later use and even the spirit of the design itself.
You lived in Japan for quite some time. Your “Lace” stool, presented by Ligne Roset at imm Cologne, looks like a French bonbon in a plain, Asia-inspired wrapper. What kind of influence do Japanese aesthetics have on your designs?
Benjamin Graindorge: Japan is of central importance in my life. I really appreciate the subtleties and depth that indwell so many things there. I feel so unbelievably at ease in Japan, almost as though I had been born there. It’s like I have absorbed the culture, made it a part of me, and I can certainly say there is nowhere else I feel so alive. This country so rich in contrast provides me with such inspiration; the Japanese and French cultures come together in me, in perfect harmony. Living in Japan taught me one thing: The most important thing is the emotion we bring to our works as designers. This is something many Europeans have forgotten. Japan isn’t a land of designers, but of craftsmen – and I love it!
It’s clear that in our globally oriented world it is becoming more and more difficult to classify design and the clichés that were once so common – French = elegant, German = straight-lined, Dutch = ironically humorous – appear to be dissipating. On the other hand, there is a visible trend toward the regional. How do you find your niche as a designer?
Graindorge: We are all currently mired in a crisis, the whole world is talking about it, and of course this also throws up many difficulties for us designers. But then again it’s also a good thing for design per se because to some extent it requires us designers to be a bit more serious. I’m sure that industrial design as we have known it up to now won’t be around for much longer. It will only be so long before coming up with a product for 10,000 people will no longer be feasible. Instead we’ll have to figure out how to put the industrial tools at our disposal to use for one-offs or small series. On the whole, we have to consider things more closely and be more specific in our work. Much more important than the nationalities of the designers are the intellectual currents that creative minds take as the basis for their work. What counts is the emotional responsibility and precision of thought that we channel into our work.
Back during your studies at the ENSCI, you did an internship with Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. You then went on to work as an assistant to designers at Mathieu Lehanneur and Radi. What did these experiences teach you?
Graindorge: I owe the fact that I am a designer today to Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. When working with the brothers I learned how to really look at things; after all it’s extremely difficult to see things as they actually are. It’s no secret that the two of them are brilliant. They don’t see the world like everyone else does but from an entirely new perspective. First of all I had to learn how you really work and how to ensure the integrity of my ideas and feelings during the creative process without allowing reality to damage or tarnish my designs leaving them looking hackneyed. Ronan and Erwan showed me that reality is beautiful, that it can inspire you and fire your imagination. They gave me heart and spirit.
You are considered one of the most talented young designers in France. What can we expect from you over the coming years?
Graindorge: Expect? Nothing… Or perhaps a great deal, I don’t know. I have just been lucky and sometimes I think that perhaps it’s all just transitory. When I’m working, the whole time I tell myself the only thing that counts is freedom. I admit, I’m happy to receive support from my manufacturers because they always inject me with self-confidence, which is extremely valuable for me. Of course I’d like to work on an international level and, for instance, embark on joint ventures with Japanese or Scandinavian companies. I would really like to design restaurants or apartments as a way of sounding out new areas of design. If I had time, I’d love nothing more than spending my days drawing with my colored pencils…